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 Objects, Symbols, and Weapons
Held by 1000-Armed Kannon & Other Buddhist Deities

This is a Side Page. Return to Parent Page on 1000-Armed Kannon.

Jimotsu or Jibutsu 持物 (Skt. = Lakasana). The objects held in the hands of Buddhist images.
Buddhist deities are associated with specific symbolic and ritual objects. There are no hard-and-fast rules, however, and depictions in sculpture and painting often vary. The below grouping for the 1000-Armed Kannon comes from Kyoto-based Rengeō-in Temple 蓮華王院 (Tendai Sect), more commonly known as Sanjūsangendō 三十三間堂 (Hall of 33 Bays). Each object has a clearly defined spiritual function and is often associated with other deities besides Kannon (as explained below). Rengeō-in Temple houses one thousand sculptures of the 1000-Armed Kannon that date back to the 12th & 13th century. The objects they hold differ somewhat from Kannon statues at other temples, as does the placement of the objects (whether held in the right or left hands). Some are weapons to subdue the enemies of Buddhism, others to aid and teach practitioners, and still others to frighten, to reprimand, or to encourage the faithful and unfaithful alike. Despite the large array of different icons, each is a tool of salvation and symbolizes the diversity of Kannon's many salvific roles.

Arrow

Grapes

Lotus Bud (White)

Semui-in Hand Gesture

Trident

Ax (Axe)

Halberd

Mirror

Shield

Vajra (Single-Pronged)

Bell (with vajra handle)

Human figure

Moon Disc

Skull

Vajra (Triple-Pronged)

Bow

Jar (water jar)

Palace

Staff with Human Head

Vase

Bowl

Jewel (Grants Wishes)

Pomegranate

Staff with Six Rings

Water Jar

Censer

Jewelry box

Prayer Beads

Stupa (Pagoda)

Wheel

Cloud (5-Colored)

Lasso

Praying Hands (Gasshō)

Sun Disc

Whisk

Conch shell

Lotus (Blooming, Blue)

Ram

Sutra Box

Willow Branch

Eaves bell

Lotus (Blooming, Red)

Ring (Golden Rings)

Sutra Scroll

Wish-Fullfilling Jewel

Emanation Buddha

Lotus Bud (Purple)

Sacred Seal

Sword

** Click Here for Sources **

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Objects in
Right Hands

Romanized
Japanese

Symbolic Meaning

Images

1

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Staff or Scepter; often with Six Rings; also known as the Pilgrim’s Staff

Shakujō 錫杖

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よい願いをおこす、善心を発する. Engenders goodness by awakening the compassionate Bodhisattva heart. The six rings are intimately associated with the six realms of karmic rebirth and there are Six Kannon forms to assist beings in each of the six realms. Jizō Bosatsu is also commonly depicted holding a six-ringed staff, as Jizō likewise assists those in the six realms. In Buddhist traditions in China and Japan, itinerant monks, pilgrims, and beggars carried staffs with several rings dangling at the top -- meant to make a sound and thus frighten away any insects, snakes, or tiny animals in the direct path of the pilgrim, or to inform villagers of the approach of such travelers. In some Chinese traditions, Jizō shakes the six rings to open the doors between the various realms.

Six-Ringed Staff             

2

Mirror

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Hōkyō 宝鏡

智恵の眼. Draws forth intelligence to liberate the mind. It also reflects the lesson that life is illusion, for the mirror does not represent reality -- it merely provides a reflection of reality. The mirror is thus a metaphor for the unenlightened mind deluded by mere appearances. Also see the famous Buddhist parable from China known in Japan as Enkō Sokugetsu 猿猴捉月. Translated as "Catching the Moon’s Reflection," it tells a similar story of the unenlightened mind deluded by appearances.The mirror is also one of Three Reglia of the Shintō camp.

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Mirror

Mirror

3

Moon Disc

Gachirin 月輪
also known as Getsurin, Gatsurin,  or Gesseimani
月精摩尼

熱や毒の病をいやす. Cures fever and illness. A perfectly round circle meant to represent the full moon, a frequently used symbol in Buddhist painting and sculpture. It represents the Buddha's knowledge and virtue which are considered perfect and all-encompassing. It also symbolizes the aspirations of sentient beings to attain Buddhahood. The moon disc is also a common attribute of Gakkō Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva of Moonlight or Lunar Radiance), and is carved on innumerable stone statues and memorial tablets across Japan. Also, in Japan, talismans of the moon disc can be found with a rabbit drawn inside. The hare is shown pounding mochi (glutinous rice). Details here. People suffering high temperatures or fevers can purchase such talismans (called Gessei Manishu 月精摩尼手), which are said to reduce fever and cool the body.

 Moon Disc

4

Sutra Box

Kyōbaku
経箔

Hōkyō 寶篋

冥福をえる.
Brings happiness in the next world. A sutra box is a receptacle for the Buddhist scriptures (Skt. = sutra) and teachings, and thus represents the concept of a treasure box. Also Hōkyō 寶篋, a precious box, or a box containing precious things.

 Sutra box

5

Wish Fullfilling Jewel, Wish Granting Jewel

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Hōju 宝珠

or 寶珠

財宝を得る. Grants wishes, brings wealth. Often depicted as a single orb with a pointed top, or as a set of three jewels, sometimes with a flame nimbus. This grouping of three probably represents the Three Jewels (Sanbō 三宝) of Buddhism, which are Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist law), and the Sangha (community of Buddhist believers). The jewel appears in a wide range of artistic forms, e.g., as a temple-roof ornament, as an object held by Buddhist deities or atop the weapons their carry, and as a sacred symbol in mandala paintings. Many deities are commonly shown holding this jewel (Skt. = Cintamani), including the 1000-Armed Kannon, Jizō Bosatsu, Kokūzō Bosatsu, and Aizen Myō-ō. Known as the hōju 宝珠 or hōju-no-tama 宝珠の玉 in Japan, this jewel signifies the bestowal of blessings on all who suffer, for it grants wishes, pacifies desires, and brings clear understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist law). This equates to “wealth” in  Buddhist philosophy. Other Buddhist deities depicted holding this sacred jewel include Nyoirin Kannon (an esoteric form of Kannon; the jewel represents Nyoirin’s vow to save those in the realm of hungry ghosts) and Kichijōten (Goddess of Fortune, Luck, Beauty, and Merit). Daikokuten, one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods, is often depicted with a wish-granting jewel inside his magic mallet or inside his belt. Images of the wish-fulfilling jewel are also commonly found on the roofs of Inari Shinto shrines, or in the mouth or under the paw of Inari's messenger -- the fox. The wish-granting jewel has also served historically as one of Buddhism’s most important repositories of Buddhist relics -- the ashes, fingernail clippings, hair, bone, or teeth of the Historical Buddha. They were made in great number in mainland Asia and in Japan, and represent the “internationalization” of Buddhist teachings, as each nation that received the Buddhist philosophies erected numerous stupa designed with jewel iconography or containing a  wish-granting jewel. See Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan by Brian D. Ruppert for much more on this sacred object.

Wish-fulfilling jewel    Wish-fulfilling jewel

Wish Granting Jewel (Hoju)
Closeup of wish-fulfilling jewel
from a Heian-era scroll in the
collection of Tokyo National Museum

Wish Granting Jewels in Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala
Wish Granting Jewels
Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala
Muromachi Era Painting

6

Emanation Buddha 

Kebutsu 化仏

開悟の証明を得る. Helps one on path to enlightenment. Kebutsu literally means transformation body, avatar, or manifestation of the Buddha or the Bodhisattva. In practical terms, it means a smaller Buddhist image attached to a larger image. Found often with Kannon statuary, where a small image of Amida is placed atop Kannon’s crown or held in Kannon’s hand -- Kannon is considered an active emanation of Amida in Japan.

Emanation Buddha

Emanation Buddha

7

Vajra weapon
with one prong on each end

Dokko 独鈷
or
Kongōko
金剛杵

怨敵をくじく. A weapon to crush resentment, expel enemies, and destroy evil. The vajra is the main symbol of Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism, known as Esoteric Buddhism 密教 (Mikkyō) in Japan. It represents firmness of spirit and spiritual power, and comes in various forms (with one, two, three, four, five, or nine prongs), each with its own distinct symbolism. According to the Flammarion Buddhism Guide (p. 65), the single-prong vajra probably represents the union of the material world and spiritual world, as well as that of the two principal mandala of Esoteric Buddhism -- the Womb World & Daimond World Mandalas.

Single-pronge vajra weapon

Single-pronge vajra weapon

8

Sutra Scroll

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Kyōkan 経巻
or

Hōkyō 宝経

善いことを多く聞く.
An emblem of wisdom and aid to deep study. A tool for learning Buddhist teachings, one that is repeatable, allowing learners to read, hear, or contemplate over and over. The sutra scroll is a common attribute of Monju Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Wisdom).

Sutra scroll

Sutra scroll

9

Vajra weapon with three prongs on each side 

Sanko 三鈷

魔を除く. A weapon that destroys evil, with three prongs on each side. The vajra is the main symbol of Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism, known as Esoteric Buddhism 密教 (Mikkyō) in Japan. It represents firmness of spirit and spiritual power, and comes in various forms (with one, two, three, four, five, or nine prongs). The three-prongs symbolize the “Three Jewels” (Sanbō 三宝), which are the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist law), and the Sangha (community of Buddhist believers). The six prongs of this weapon (three on each side) are sometimes said to represent the six realms of karmic rebirth. In Japan, Sanbō Kōjin 三宝荒神 (lit. = protector of the three jewels) is closely associated with this weapon.

Three-prong vajra weapon

Triple-prong vajra weapon

10

Ax (Axe)

Tetsupu 鉄斧

or
Teppu 鉄斧

官難を除き平和をもたらす.
Wards off calamity; helps to achieve harmony. It represents the cutting away of ignorance, and is often held by Japan’s wrathful Myō-ō deities to symbolize the chopping away of all obstacles that block the path to enlightenment.

Ax

Ax

11

Sacred Seal

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Hōin 宝印 

Svastikah, the Indian symbol, not the Nazi symbol, is derived from Sanskrit word SVASTIKAH meaning FORTUNATE.色々な弁説. Brings eloquence in speech or skill at talking. The 卍 is a symbol originating in India, and known as the Kyōji (Kyoji) 胸字 in Japan. Found frequently in India on the chest of Lord Vishnu. In Japan it is used as a symbol of Buddhist faith, one found frequently on statues of the Buddha, Tathagata (Jp. = Nyorai), and Bodhisattva (Jp. = Bosatsu), and one of the 32 Marks of the Buddha. It represents the ”possession of all virtues” in Japan. See Footprints of Buddha for more.

Sacred seal

Sacred seal

12

Lotus Blossom
(Open, Blue)

Blue Lotus
Seiren 青蓮

The blue & white portions of this lotus (a type of water lily) represent
Buddha eyes.

Seikairen
青開蓮

十方浄土に往生する. Rebirth in the Pure Land. The blue lotus symbolizes wisdom and the victory of the spirit over the senses. Monju Bosatsu (the voice of Buddhist law and the personification of wisdom) is closely associated with the blue lotus (atop which is often a sutra), as is Hannya Bosatsu. The lotus is a symbol of purity and enlightenment, and in all Buddhist traditions, the deities are typically shown sitting or standing atop a lotus or holding a lotus. Although a beautiful flower, the lotus grows out of the mud at the bottom of a pond. Buddhist deities are enlightened beings who grew out of the mud of the material world. Like the lotus, they are beautiful and pure even though they grew up in the "muddy" material world. The open blossom represents the possibility of universal salvation for all sentient beings. The lotus is one of the most widely known symbols of Buddhism. It is also one of the signs on the foot of a Buddha (see Footprints of Buddha for details) and the principal attribute of Kannon (Lord of Compassion). Nyoirin Kannon (an esoteric form of Kannon) is often depicted touching a lotus throne, which represents a vow to save those in the Asura realm, and holding a lotus bud, which represents a vow to save those in the human realm.

Open lotus blossom

Open blue lotus blossom

13

Arrow 

Hōzen 宝箭

良き友に巡り会う. Reconnecting with good friends or meeting true friends. Also a weapon against the enemies of Buddhism, one that symbolizes the destruction of the passions. In Japan, Aizen Myō-ō (Conqueror of the Passions, God of Love) is especially associated with the bow and arrow, which are symbolic of intense concentration. The union of the bow and arrow, says the Flammarion Guide, “may also symbolize love.” (p. 68)

Arrow

Arrow

14

Grapes

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Budō 葡萄

五穀豊穣、自然の恵みをえる.
Represents the blessings of nature.

grapes

grapes

15

Willow Branch

Yōryū 楊柳

病難を除く. Wards off  or cures illness. This object is closely associated with Yōryū Kannon (Willow Kannon), who is also known as Yakuō Kannon 薬王観音 (Medicine King) and one of 33 Kannon Forms. In January each year, Rengeō-in Temple 蓮華王院 (Hall of the Lotus King) in Kyoto holds the Rite of the Willow (Yanagi no Okajidaihōyō 楊枝のお加持大法要), which originated in the Heian period, in which worshippers are touched on the head with a sacred willow branch to cure and prevent headaches, and to pray for another year of good health. Says the Flammarion Guide: “The leaves and bark of the weeping willow contain salicylic acid which cures many ailments and calms fever, medicinal properties which have been known in Asia from antiquity and which are now used in the manufacture of aspirin." (p. 157)

Willow branch

Willow branch

16

Vase 

Kobyō 胡瓶
or Kebyō

平和を得る. Brings cordial / peaceful relations with others. The vase holds the “nectar” of Kannon’s compassion -- it pacifies the thirst of those who pray to Kannon for assistance. Says Meher McArthur: “The vase is a symbol of spiritual abundance. The symbolism probably arises from the idea of storing food and may be related to the universal concept of the inexhaustible vessel. In Buddhism, it represents the fulfilment of spiritual wishes.”

 Vase

17

Lotus Bud
(Purple )

Shimikairen
紫未開蓮 or

Shirenge
紫蓮華

十方浄土の諸仏を見る. Allows one to see or commune with the myriad Buddha of the Pure Land. The purple lotus is the “mystic lotus,” a metaphor for the mystical teachings and practices of Esoteric (Tantric) Buddhism, which supposedly enable practitioners to attain enlightenment in a single lifetime -- rather than passing through countless lives before attaining the ultimate state. To achieve this, Esoteric Buddhism incorporates mystical visualizations, myriad symbols and deities, and complicated secret rituals that can only be learned by study with a master -- thus explaining the term “esoteric.”  Esoteric practice lays great emphasis on mantra (incantations), mudra (hand gestures) and mandala (diagrams of the deities and cosmic forces), as well as on magic and a multiplicity of deities.

Lotus bud

Lotus Bud Purple

18

Prayer Beads
or Rosary

Juzu 数珠

仏手を蒙る. Provides protection and used for prayer and invocation. A string of beads or a rosary, used for Buddhist prayer and invocation. Associated particularly with a chant repeating the name of Amida Buddha. The number and shape of the beads varies, but the most common type has 108 beads. Rosaries were introduced to Japan with Buddhism. Originally rare and precious, prayer beads became widely used after the spread of Buddhism in the Heian Period (8th-12th century) and Kamakura Period (12th-13th century). Permission to trade in rosaries during the Edo Period (17th-19th century) made them available to the general public. Kyoto has many head temples of various Buddhist sects, and the techniques of making rosaries have been passed down from generation to generation. The number "108" is a sacred number in many Buddhist traditions. It is said to represent the number of earthly passions and desires that blind and delude us, entrapping us in the Six States of Existence (the wheel of life, the cycle of samsara, the cycle of suffering and reincarnation). At the end of each year, Japanese temples strike a large bell 108 times to symbolically awaken us from our delusions. This bell-ringing tradition is called Joya-no-Kane 除夜の鐘. Nyoirin Kannon (an esoteric form of Kannon) is often shown holding a rosary, which represents Nyoirin’s vow to save those in the animal realm.

Prayer beads

Prayer beads

19

Semui-in Hand Gesture

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Semui-in
施無畏印

怖れを去る. Mudra of fearlessness & granting of protection. Helps to relieve the anxiety of devotees. Said to be the gesture of Shaka Nyorai (Historical Buddha) immediately after he attained enlightenment. Associated as well with Amoghasiddhi Buddha (Jp. = Fukūjōju; not frequently found in Japanese Buddhist sculpture). Amoghasiddhi means “inevitable success.” The episode relates to the Historical Buddha who, while in deep meditation in human form, was protected for seven days from stormy rain and wind by Mucilinda, the seven-headed serpent king who spread his heads above the Historical Buddha. Mucilinda is one of the Naga, a grouping of powerful serpent beings, including the dragon , who converted to Buddhism after listening to the teachings of Shaka (Historical Buddha). In Japan, the Naga are members of the Hachi-Bushū (Eight Legions) a grouping of supernatural creatures who protect Buddhism.

 Semui-in Mudra

20

Bowl
(held in two
hands in lap)

Hōhatsu 宝鉢

腹病を治す.
Heals stomach ailments,eases stomach pain.
Traditionally used by monks when begging for food and alms.

Bowl Senju Kannon

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Objects in
Left Hands

Romanized
Japanese

Symbolic Meaning

Images

21

Trident

Gekihoko
戦鉾 or 戦鞘

逆賊を除く. Overcomes enemies. The three-prongs symbolize the “Three Jewels” (Sanbō 三宝), which are the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist law), and the Sangha (community of Buddhist believers). The trident also represents triumph over ignorance. In some traditions, the three-pronged trident also symbolizes the destruction of the three poisons (greed, anger, and ignorance.) In Tibetan Wheel-of-Life Tanka  paintings, the three poisons are represented by three animals (a pig, a snake, and a rooster). The three are depicted at the center of the Tanka biting each others tails -- to show that these evils are inseparably connected. Numerous deities in Japan hold a trident. In addition to the 1000-Armed Kannon, other deities include Tamonten (Buddhist Protector of the North), Bishamonten (God of War), Ishanaten (aka Daijizaiten; one of the 12 Deva and protector of the Northeast quarter), Daiitoku Myō-ō (one of the Five Wisdom Kings), Shōmen Kongō (who protects against diseases caused by demons), Sendan Kendatsuba (Buddhist protector of children in Japan), and Anira Taishō (one of 12 Generals serving Yakushi Nyorai (the Medicine Buddha).

Trident   Trident in Left Hand

22

Sun Disc

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Nichirin 日輪
or  Nisseimani
日精摩尼

闇を照らす. Sheds light on darkness; avoids eye disease. The sun disc is also a common attribute of Nikkō Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva of Sunlight or Solar Radiance), and appears on innumerable stone statues and memorial tablets across Japan. The Nichirin (sun disc) can also sometimes be found with a black three-legged crow drawn inside. In Japan, Nikkō Bosatsu is associated with a black three-legged crow-like bird, as is Myōken (the deification of the Pole Star and Big Dipper). People with eye disease or poor eye sight in Japan can purchase talismans or icons called Nissei Manishu 日精摩尼手, which show the bird inside the sun disc. Making proper pleas and prayers to the icon is said to cure eye problems.

 Sun Disk in Left Hand

23

Palace

Kyūden 宮殿

胎蔵. Located in Taizōkai, or the womb world. Symbolic of the Womb-World Mandala -- one of the two principal mandala of Esoteric Buddhism. Represents the palace where Buddha resides, and thus the promise of Buddhahood to all sentient beings.

Palace

Palace in Left Hand

24

Emanation Buddha 

Kebutsu 化仏

仏に親しむ . Commune with Buddha. Kebutsu literally means transformation body, avatar, or manifestation of the Buddha or the Bodhisattva. In practical terms, it means a smaller Buddhist image attached to a larger image. For more details, see #6 above.

Emanation Buddha

Emanation Buddha in Left Hand

25

Dharma Wheel

or Wheel of
the Law

Rinpō 輪宝

菩提心. Represents the teaching of Buddhist Law; stops one from regressing. One of the 32 Marks of the Buddha. Many deities in Japan are depicted with this symbol. For example, Nyoirin Kannon (an esoteric form of Kannon) is often shown holding a Dharma wheel, which represents Nyoirin’s vow to save those in the heavenly Deva realm.

Dharma wheel

Dharma wheel in left hand

26

Five-Colored Cloud

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Goshiki-un
五色雲

神仙道をうる. Gains longevity. The five primary colors of Buddhism are blue, yellow, red, white, and black. The number five holds tremendous significance in nearly all Buddhist traditions. It refers to the Five Colors (Goshiki 五色), the Five Senses (Goshiki 五識), the Five Buddha (Gobutsu 五佛), and a host of other important philosophies. During the Heian period (794-1185), the tradition of hanging a scroll of Amida Buddha in front of a dying person was established. A five-colored cord was attached to the scroll and extended into the hands of the dying person. According to Pure Land believers, if the dying person held firmly to the cord during the final moments of life, s/he was assured direct passage to Amida's Western Paradise (Jp. = Gokuraku or Pure Land). Every year on April 8th in Japan, a ceremony called Kanbutsu-e 潅仏会 is held to commemorate the Historical Buddha's birthday. A small statue of the Buddha is typically sprinkled with hydrangea tea or with scented water called Goshiki Sui 五色水 (lit. five-colored water). See Number Five in Buddhist Traditions for more details.

Five-colored cloud

Five-colored cloud in left hand

27

Bell with five-pronged vajra handle

Gokorei
五鈷鈴 or
宝鐸

音声を得る. Brings the gift of sound and beautiful voice. The practitioner uses these bells to call the relevant deities, and when finished, to send the deities back. Also said to symbolize the repetition of mantras (incantations). Bells are thought to represent the female aspect, and when combined with the vajra weapon (male aspect), their union is said to symbolize the two principal mandala of Esoteric Buddhism -- the Womb World & Daimond World Mandalas. The Bodhisattva of Practice or Praxis, Fugen Bosatsu, is sometimes shown holding a bell. The five prongs symbolize the five elements and five wisdom Buddha.

bell with five-pronged vajra handle

Bell with five-pronged vajra handle

28

Conch shell

Hōra 宝螺
aka 貝

善神を招く. Used in religious rituals to beckon forth the beneficent deities. Also used to call together an assembly. Its deep tone is also meant to dispel evil and represent the sound of Buddha’s teachings. In Japan, the conch-shell trumpet is especially associated with Shugendō 修験道 (mountain asceticism), where it is known by various names, including hora, horagai, ra, rabai, and jingai. See story by Hajime Fukui (1994).

Conch shell

Conch shell is left hand

29

Halberd or Hook

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Tetsukō 鉄鈎

龍神を伏す.
Conquers evil dragon spirits or Akuryū 悪竜. Like the ax and sword, it is used to cut away or dispel ignorance. Also utilized in Japanese rituals of exorcism by shamans and priests (see Meher McArthur, p. 143).

Hook

Hook in left hand

30

Lotus Blossom
(Open, Red)

Benikairen
紅開蓮

or Guren 紅蓮

諸天に生ずる.
Assures rebirth in heaven. Symbolizes compassion, love, purity, and other qualities of the heart. Closely identified with Kannon Bodhisattva. Also represents the original nature of the heart.

Open lotus blossom

Open Red Lotus Bud

31

Rings or
Golden Rings

Kinkan 金環

支援者をえる. Gains supporters and patronage.

Ring and bell

Ring and bell in left hand

32

Sword

Hōken
宝剣

悪魔を退ける. Conquers evil spirits. In addition to the 1000-Armed Kannon, many other deities are shown wielding the devil-subduing sword (which also symbolizes wisdom cutting through ignorance), including Fudō Myō-ō (leader of the esoteric Mantra Kings), Kokūzō Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Memory & Intelligence), and Monju Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Wisdom).

Sword

Sword in left hand

33

Whisk

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Hossu 払子

色々な障りや塵を去る. Overcomes ill fortune and obstacles.
Used to whisk away insects, and thus to ensure that the devotee does not slay or accidentally kill any life form. It therefore represents obedience to Buddhist law.

Whisk

Whisk Object

34

Skull

or Staff
with Human Skull

Dokuro 髑髏
or

Dokurojō
髑髏杖

鬼神を降伏する. Conquers demons and demonic influences. Symbolizes the impermanence of life. A simile for people who are free from discriminating thoughts. Ikkyuu Soujun 一休宗純 (1394-1481), the renowned Zen monk (and poet) of Daitokuji Temple 大徳寺 in Kyoto, reportedly wandered about during new year celebrations brandishing a staff surmounted by a human skull in his effort to remind people of their thin grasp on life.

Skull

Skull object

35

Bow 

Hōkyū 宝弓

栄官を増す.  Increases honor. In Japan, Aizen Myō-ō (Conqueror of the Passions, God of Love) is especially associated with the bow and arrow, which are symbolic of intense concentration and the destruction of all passions. The union of the bow and arrow, says the Flammarion Guide, “may also symbolize love.” (p. 68)

Bow

Bow in left hand

36

Lasso or Noose

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Kensaku
羂索

or Kenjaku

安穏を得る. Achieves peace. In addition to the 1000-Armed Kannon, other esoteric deities carry this object, including Fukūkenjaku Kannon (a multi-armed esoteric form of Kannon who carries a lasso to catch straying souls and lead them to salvation), and Fudō Myō-ō (the leader of the esoteric Mantra Kings, who holds a lasso to bind up the wicked or keep people from straying). The lasso also represents the Precepts (need to give source) in some traditions.

Lasso

Lasso in left hand

37

Lotus Bud
(White)

White Lotus
Byakuren 白蓮

Byakumikairen
白未開蓮

or
Shiromikairen
 

功徳クドク弁ベン満マン、功徳クドクをえる. Accumulates merit, brings success and virtue. The white lotus is a metaphor for the inner mind, mental purity, and spiritual perfection. Kokūzō Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Memory and Artistic Talent) is often shown holding a jewel atop a white lotus. Shō-Kannon (the “sacred” form of Kannon) is often shown holding a white lotus bud, said to purify suffering people, while Monju Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Wisdom) is sometimes shown seated atop a white lotus. The pure white flower, in nature, raises up out of muddy water. This symbolizes the potential for all beings living in the “muddy” material world to attain Buddhahood. In Japan’s Taizōkai Mandala (Womb World Mandala; one of two principal mandalas of Esoteric Buddhism), the white lotus represents the “womb of the world,” and is found commonly at the center of the mandala. Sometimes shown open or in bud form. When shown open, it typically has eight petals, which represent the Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

Lotus bud

White Lotus Bud

38

Water Jar

Mizugame or Suibyō 水瓶

also
Tōbin 唐瓶

梵天に生ずる、値遇善王. Represents good governance, good rulers, and wisdom; the jar is said to contain a miraculous sweet liquid that relieves the thirst of devotees, an elixir (medical remedy) that can stave off old age and death. The water jar also symbolizes spiritual cleansing or the washing away of impurities that obstruct the path to enlightenment. Found often with Kannon Bosatsu and Seishi Bosatsu statuary. Kannon represents compassion and, along with Seishi (who represents wisdom), is one of Amida’s two main assistants. Seishi is often depicted with a crown containing a small water bottle (suibyō 水瓶). Miroku Bosatsu (the Future Buddha) is sometimes shown holding a water bottle, one of the objects Mahayana monks were allowed to carry.

Water jar

Water jar in left hand

39

Shield

Tate 盾 or 楯

獣の難をさける楯.
Protects against beasts.
Avoids falling back down to the animal realm or lower.

Shield

40

Praying Hands
(two hands)

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Gasshō 合掌

諸人に慕われる. Mudra (Hand Gesture) of Greeting, Respect, Veneration. Palms held together at chest level (resembles Western image of praying hands); signifies respect, submission, and veneration, and therefore not typically found on statues of the Buddha (Nyorai). But often found with statues of the Bodhisattva (Bosatsu), in particular Kannon, Fugen, and Seishi. The gasshō is still commonly used today by Japanese worshippers to show respect to shrine and temple deities; also still the customary gesture of greeting in India, Nepal, and elsewhere in Asia.

Gassho (Praying Hands) Senju Kannon

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 OTHER COMMON OBJECTS

Images

Stupa (Skt.)
or
Pagoda

Hōtō 宝塔, 寶塔, lit. jeweled stupa. The Sanskrit word “stūpa” is translated as pagoda in English. The deity Bishamonten (aka Tamonten) is often depicted holding a small pagoda -- this symbolizes the divine treasure house of Buddhist teachings and treasures. Bishamon is both a protector of and dispenser of its bounty -- he shares the pagoda’s vast treasures with only "the worthy." Stupa (or pagoda) have also served historically as repositories of Buddhist relics -- the ashes, fingernail clippings, hair, bone, or teeth of the Historical Buddha. They represent the “internationalization” of Buddhist teachings, as each nation that received the Buddhist philosophies thereafter erected numerous stupa (which supposedly contained relics of the Historical Buddha). See Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan by Brian D. Ruppert for much more on this sacred object. In related matters, the term Hōkyō 宝篋 means precious box, and symbolizes the recovery of lost souls. 地中に隠れたものを得て冥福を得る. Elsewhere, the Hōkyō-intō 宝篋印塔 is a three-element stele, representing (from the bottom) earth, water, and fire. In the middle is a square cube, and on each surface an image of the Buddha is often engraved. It is a type of pagoda (Skt. = Stupa) originally made as a repository for copies of the Hōkyōin Darani Sutra 宝筺印陀羅尼. In the Heian period, Hōkyō-intō were made of gilt bronze or wood, but by the Kamakura period these pagodas were usually made of stone and used as funerary markers. See Hōkyō-intō for details.

Stupa or Pagodastupa

Staff with
human head

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Jintōjō 人頭杖 (also Nintōjō). A staff surmounted by a human head (sometimes two), meant to symbolize the impermanence of life. The Jintōjō is especially associated with Enmaten (aka Emma-ō), the most important of the 10 Kings of Hell, who is sometimes shown holding this object. Enmaten is associated with long life and protection from illness and misfortune. In rare cases, artwork of Emma-ō and the 10 Kings of Hell includes a staff surmounted with two human heads (one male, one female). This object is known as the Dandatō 檀拏幢. The two heads assist the kings during the trials of the deceased. The male head, known as Kaguhana 嗅鼻 (nose that sniffs misdeeds), is shown with mouth open, for he is reporting the misdeeds of the deceased. The female head, known as Mirume 視目 (eyes that see hidden faults), is shown with mouth closed. The term Mirume Kagubana is also a Japanese expression meaning "town gossip" or “loudmouthed busybody" of the neighborhood (aka 世間のうるさい耳目). Kongōgan Jizō (one of Six Jizō who protects those in the hell realm) is also shown holding a staff topped with a human head. In some traditions, Jizō inhabits the same body as Emma-ō. When a person dies, s/he must appear before Emma-ō (and the other judges of hell), who jointly decide whether the person is good or bad; the person is then sent (reborn) into the most appropriate of the six realms. For example, for those to be reborn into the human realm, they might be reborn as a wealthy or poor person, as a peaceful or violent person, or as a man or woman. The Kamakura Kokuhōkan Museum 鎌倉国宝館, located on the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine 鶴岡八幡宮 in Kamakura, possesses a dandatō dated to the Kamakura period (1185-1332).

Staff with human head
Jintōjō人頭杖 or Jintōtō 人頭幢
Also sometimes pronounced Nintōjō

Two Human Heads on Staff
Dandatō
 檀拏幢

The Japanese term “Danda 檀拏” is a transliteration of the Sanskrit daṇḍa, meaning a staff or pole held by Yama (Lord of the Underworld) that is topped with a human head or other emblem.

Jintojo (Nintojo), with heads of Mirume & Kaguhana
The male head with open mouth is Kaguhana 嗅鼻 (nose that sniffs misdeeds), who reportedly spits fire when reporting grievous misdeeds.  The female head with closed mouth is Mirume 視目 (eyes that see hidden faults), who reportedly spits out a white lotus for those who performed many goods deeds during their life. The two assist Emma-ō in making his  judgement on the deceased.

Dharma staff

 

Dharma staff

Human figure

Also a common attribute of Shōmen Kongō (a deity who protects against diseases caused by demons). When appearing in statuary and other artwork, this object (a human held from his/her head) probably represents a sinner being punished. 

human figure

Ram

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Unknown iconography. Perhaps like “sheep being led to the slaughter?” The ram (or sheep) is one of the 12 Zodiac animals.

ram

Pomegranate

Shimanka 子滿果 or Shakuro 石榴.  The pomegrante is a symbol of fertility because of its many seeds, and thus a symbol of prosperity. Other deities, including Tara Bosatsu (Kannon's Śakti, or “female personification of the male”) and Kariteimo (Goddess of Easy Delivery, Giver of Children, & Guardian of Children), are often depicted holding this object.

pomegranate-senju-TN

Long-handled censer

 

long-handled censer

Eaves bells

 

Eaves bells

Jewelry box

 

Jewelry box

SOURCES & CLIPART

  1. Buddhas at Sanjūsangendō Temple 三十三間堂の佛たち. Published 1997. Catalog of Tendai-sect Rengeō-in Temple 蓮華王院 in Kyoto. More commonly known as Sanjūsangendō, this temple contains 1,000 sculptors of the 1,000-Armed Kannon. The central figure was carved by Tankei (+1173-1256), a member of the dominant Keiha School. Above clipart in far right column scanned from this catalog.
     
  2. Essentials of Buddhist Images: A Comprehensive Guide to Sculpture, Painting, and Symbolism. Paperback book by Kodo Matsunami; first English edition March 2005; published by Omega-Com. Above clipart in left column scanned from this book.
     
  3. Ryūkozan Shōbō-in Temple 龍光山正寶院. Based in Tokyo. Tendai Sect. tctv.ne.jp/tobifudo/butuzo/senjukan.html.
    Above Japanese-language descriptions were gleaned from Ryūkozan Shōbō-in.
     
  4. Buddhism: Flammarion Iconographic Guides, by Louis Frederic, Printed in France, ISBN 2-08013-558-9, First published 1995. A highly illustrated volume, with special significance to those studying Japanese Buddhist iconography. Includes many of the myths and legends of mainland Asia as well, but its special strength is in its coverage of the Japanese tradition. Hundreds of accompanying images/photos, both B&W and color. A useful addition to your research bookshelf.  Page 167 shows clipart of 55 various objects associated with Senju Kannon.
     
  5. Reading Buddhist Art, An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs & Symbols. By Meher McArthur, curator of East Asian Art at Pacific Asia Museum (Pasadena). Published 2004 by Thames & Hudson.  ISBN 0-500-28428-8.
     
  6. Says JAANUS: Jimotsu (or Jibutsu) 持物 are the hand-held attributes of a Buddhist image. Along with the mudra (in 印), hand-held attributes help identify a particular image, its character, and role. However, many attributes are used by more than one image and each deity is not always consistent in its possession of a certain attribute. Records of the deities with their various jimotsu exist in Giki 儀軌 (ritual manuals), and Zuzōshō 図像抄 (Iconographic Compendia). Some of the oldest Japanese examples of these iconographic records include the Kakuzenshō 覚禅鈔 (Notes of Priest Kakuzen; 1176-1219), and the Besson Zakki 別尊雑記 (Miscellaneous Notes on Individual Deities), compiled from the late 12th to early 13th centuries, which provide illustrations of most of the Buddhist deities with their attributes. Well-known examples of jimotsu include:
     
    • Yakuko 薬壷 (medicine jar) of Yakushi 薬師, the healing Buddha
    • Shakujō 錫杖 (pilgrim's staff) of Jizō 地蔵
    • Kenjaku 羂索 (snaring rope) of Fudō Myō-ō 不動明王
    • Hōju 宝珠 (wish-granting jewel) of Kichijōten 吉祥天
    • Biwa 琵琶 (lute-like instrument) of Benzaiten 弁財天
    • Various weapons used for the protection of Buddhism by the Shitennō 四天王
    • Various objects held by Senju Kannon 千手観音 (1000 Armed Kannon) who is usually represented with 42 arms and almost every hand holds an important Buddhist symbol. The attributes include hōbyō 宝瓶 (vase), juzu 数珠 (rosary), kebutsu 化仏 (miniature Buddha), hōra 法螺 (shell), hōkyū 宝弓 (bow), kyūden 宮殿 (palace), goshiki-un 五色雲 (five-colored cloud), dokuro 髑髏 (skull), renge 蓮華 (lotus), hossu 払子 (fly-whisk), kohei 胡瓶 (Persian vase or bird-headed vase), hōkyō 宝篋 (sutra box), kongōsho 金剛杵 (vajra), teppu 鉄斧 (iron axe), budō 葡萄 (grapes), yōryū 楊柳 (willow), among others. Aside from the purely symbolic meaning, each attribute functions to help the worshipper. For example, in the context of Senju Kannon, the yōryū helps to remove illness, the hossu removes hinderances, and the kohei helps to attain harmony. 

1000-arm Kannon (Senju Kannon), Concise History, 8th century, Fujii-dera (in Osaka)

Senju Kannon, Fujii Dera, 752 AD, Emperor Shomu, Nat'l Treasure

1000-Armed Kannon, 8th century, Fujii Dera Temple 葛井寺 (Osaka)
Above photo courtesy 日本仏像史 (Concise History of Japanese Buddhist Sculpture). Published in 2001, Bijutu Shuppan-sha, ISBN4-568-40061-9

Senju Kannon
aka 1000 Armed Kannon
Fujii Dera Temple 葛井寺 (Osaka), 752 AD


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